Steve Jobs Rankles Smartphone Competitors

Steve Jobs stirred the hornets’ nest with his remarks about antenna issues on Friday, and now competing handset companies are buzzing out with their stingers primed.

In the press conference, which was called to address a spate of bad PR catalyzed by iPhone 4 antenna issues, Jobs argued that all smartphones are prone to drops in signal strength when gripped in certain ways. A day after the conference, Apple released their internal antenna tests that showed the attenuation problems with other smartphones to back up Jobs’s assertion.

Now, the other providers are crying foul.

The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported an interview with Hui-Meng Cheng, chief financial officer at HTC, in which Cheng said the reception problems were uncommon among smartphones.

Samsung reported that negative customer feedback concerning signal problems has been minimal for the Omnia 2, one of the phones Jobs used to display the problems in Friday’s conference.

The Finland-based Titan of the cell phone industry, Nokia, released a statement that said, “Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on.” The release added, “As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.”

And Research in Motion, the makers of BlackBerry, released a pointed statement calling Jobs’s remarks “unacceptable.”

“Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation,” the joint-report from RIM CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie.

The report added, “RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage.”

Consumer Reports has been a recurring player drawn into the mudslinging. At one point they agreed with Apple, saying all cell phones had signal issues. Later, they warned against buying the iPhone 4 due to the antenna issues.

All the flip-flopping and mudslinging should be taken into perspective. First, one needn’t be clairvoyant to foresee Apple’s competitors lurching at the opportunity to defend their products. Nonetheless, Apple’s claim did seem a bit evasive when it was clearly their phone being dragged through the gauntlet, not everyone else’s.

A statement made to CNET by Ross Rubin, an analyst with market research firm NPD Group, is helpful: “You can reconcile the statements that Apple and its competitors are making if you accept that other competitive handsets may indeed be more resilient to this kind of interference, yet not immune when the right conditions are applied.”